Everette Howard Hunt became famous throughout the world -- more precisely, infamous -- for his work as a government agent, first as a spy for the OSS during World War II and the CIA afterwards and then as one of the "plumbers" who arranged the Watergate break-in under the direction of President Richard Nixon. His role in the Watergate scandal led to the downfall of Nixon's presidency and to Hunt's own incarceration for nearly three years.
Yet this man had another life, as the author of more than three dozen novels, starting with 1942's EAST OF FAREWELL and ending in 2000 with SONORA. The later novels were thrillers of no particular distinction, but the early books were well crafted and occasionally memorable -- even if some of his psychological and political quirks tend to show through (especially in any scene unfortunate enough to contain a homosexual character), the prose is well above the norm for the paperback publishers of the day and well above what you might expect from a man whose day job included the botched Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba (and, later, the no-less-botched work on Nixon's behalf). He was even awarded a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship in a year when the other candidates included Truman Capote and Gore Vidal. How is one to reconcile the two sides of this man, the sporadically successful novelist with an ear for nuances of dialogue and emotion and the sporadically unsuccessful secret agent, whose life was a tissue of lies and deceit?
I don't pretend to have an answer -- but I am fascinated by the question, and it is one of the reasons I decided to reprint one of Hunt's most satisfying early titles, the hard-boiled detective novel HOUSE DICK, under the Hard Case Crime imprint. The book's not Chandler-quality private eye writing, but that's a high bar indeed; it's probably in the top 10% of P.I. novels of its time (the early 1960s). Some of the slang the protagonist slings has dated poorly, but overall it's a very satisfying read. And there's the added frisson that comes from reading a younger Hunt write about skullduggery going on in a Washington D.C. hotel. Heck, there's even a reference to the Watergate complex in Chapter One, and this was a decade before he had any particular attachment to that bit of D.C. real estate.
What was it that turned this man's hand equally to nefarious undertakings in real life and in fiction? How could he be at once insightful about the evils his characters faced and blind to those he perpetrated himself? We'll never know. But reading the man's fiction gives us a unique opportunity to climb inside his head and try his vision of the world on for size.
It's bound to complicate our impression of him -- but that's a good thing, don't you think?
Hard Case Crime's new edition of HOUSE DICK went on sale in March 2009.